Welcome to “Humor of the Beast,” a recurring series where we interview the funniest people about their favorite band, as well as the impact heavy music has had on their lives and in comedy. In this article, we talk with Gene Meyer.
Not many can say they are a standup comic and singer of a grindcore band … actually, I’m 95% confident only one person can make such a claim, and his name is Gene Meyer. Yet Gene somehow excels at finding a common ground between the two genres – bringing the same amount of intensity and unpredictability to comedy as he does to fronting Bandit. And it all started with Pig Destroyer…
Read highlights from our conversation with Gene below – where he recalls how he discovered Pig Destroyer, what it’s like to share the same stage as his grindcore idols, how he compares playing with Bandit to performing standup, and what he sees as the connection between grindcore and comedy.
When and how did you first discover Pig Destroyer?
I tangentially knew of their existence my senior year of high school because I went into Philadelphia to see Car Bomb at the First Unitarian Church, and Pig Destroyer was headlining but I left before they went on since I was unfamiliar with them. It was a year or two later when I was doing community service [after getting arrested] that on a whim, I decided to steal Prowler In The Yard along with Nasum’s “Doombringer” from a local FYE – remember those?
I had recently read Albert Mudrian’s “Choosing Death: The Improbable History of Death Metal & Grindcore” and was curious about grindcore, but was not too impressed when I first listened to Napalm Death’s Scum. I remember putting Prowler In The Yard in the CD player in my Mom’s van and just being absolutely blown away.
What was it about Pig Destroyer that first caught your attention, and what about them continues to resonate with you the most?
The thing about Pig Destroyer and Prowler In The Yard specifically is that it elevates grindcore, which by definition is a genre sort of defined by its limitations, into high art. What’s amazing about them is how every album feels like an atmospheric horror film, like a complete unit that’s a disturbing statement on the nature of humanity, but at the same time is just an endless riff bonanza.
I’ll never forget [when I first heard] the two-step part of “Trojan Whore” kick in. I could almost physically feel my taste in music change from being really into deathcore and more pop metal to whatever this new sound was. Shortly after this, [Pig Destroyer guitarist] Scott Hull produced a compilation called “This Comp. Kills Fascists Vol. 1” for Relapse Records, and that basically introduced me to a lot of my favorite grind and powerviolence bands for the next few years. After that, I was totally devoted to grind.
When and where did you actually see Pig Destroyer live for the first time? What do you remember the most about that show?
I think it was my sophomore year of college out in Long Beach, California. I heard that Scion was sponsoring them to play a free show in L.A. This was a golden opportunity for me as I deeply regretted not seeing them at the Car Bomb show in Philly. I got there really early and people seemed really hyped on one of the opening bands, Trash Talk. I was so inundated with grind at that point that I viewed Trash Talk as mostly just your typical hardcore band.
All I remember about that show was just the endless stream of stage diving. I got onstage during “Piss Angel” and gave Scott a little head nod during the sample of the phone ringing and then just leaped into the crowd like an absolute maniac.
When did you first meet a member of Pig Destroyer? How did that experience come about, and what do you remember the most about it?
I first met Blake [Harrison, electronics] at the urinal of Saint Vitus in Brooklyn in December 2012. They were playing a show there and coincidentally enough Car Bomb was once again the opening band. I was pretty drunk, as was Blake, and I managed to strike up a conversation with him. He ended up letting me interview the band for a blog I was running at the time. I remember being incredibly nervous just talking to them.
I got to tell J.R. [Hayes, singer] how I had brought in some of his lyrics to my poetry class at college and how it really freaked some people out. He seemed to enjoy that story. I had a very tertiary friendship with Blake following that.
Do you remember what song’s lyrics you read to your college class?
I brought in the lyrics to “Jennifer.” I remember the teacher appreciated them for their artistic merit, but a girl in my class was really upset that the word “slut” was used. I understand where she was coming from, but I always felt Pig Destroyer used their sexual imagery as a way to highlight a greater artistic point rather than the typical approach of slam metal bands that are like, “KILL WOMEN LOL.” I always viewed all the lyrics from Prowler In The Yard as sort of exploring the psyche of the narrator, who is a very codependently sick and unstable individual, and the album as a whole really charts his demise.
How did Bandit end up sharing the stage with Pig Destroyer for the first time?
So J.R. sings in another equally amazing band, Enemy Soil. They played Maryland Deathfest the same Sunday Bandit did. I remember 30 minutes before playing the stage being the most nervous I’d ever been for anything in my entire life. But the beauty was that we accomplished what we set out to do – we brought the Bandit-style mayhem to MDF. The set ended with me tackling [our guitarist] Jack McBride to the ground and whipping him with a gold chain while a man in a chicken suit tackled our drummer. It was the single greatest moment of my life up to that point.
A few months later, we were asked to play with Pig Destroyer in New Jersey. I also remember being extremely nervous [for the show], but slightly less since I felt we already had a few of them on our side. We once again went completely ballistic, but this time I vomited all over the stage during the last song. Like, a biblical amount of vomit. It was perfect.
Was Pig Destroyer as amused about having to follow your biblical amount of vomiting onstage?
They loved it. We played with them again at Saint Vitus in October, and J.R. was like, “Are you gonna puke again?” I did, but not nearly as much.
Obviously, Pig Destroyer has been a massive influence on the type of music you create with Bandit. However how has Pig Destroyer influenced your comedy?
It’s funny, very early on when I started doing standup, I noticed how my sense of humor always gravitated towards themes of violence rather than sexuality like most comics. Scott’s work with Agoraphobic Nosebleed and grindcore music as a whole has definitely influenced my comedy. I find that a lot of the funnier grindcore bands seem to sort of embrace their own filth and unmarketability, which is similar to a lot of my humor. It sucks because when you’re at my level, you’re trying to figure out witty and relatable bits about dating that could amuse couples out on a Saturday night, but all I want to do is scream at them about cutting myself.
What came first – your passion for grindcore or passion for comedy? How did you end up pursuing both?
I’ve always loved goofing around and being the class clown, but my love for music has always come first. I didn’t really start to get into standup until I was about 19, but even now I don’t “follow” it as much as most people do. I’m constantly listening to new bands for the series I write for Decibel and can listen to grindcore for hours on end. However, standup is something I have to put effort into making myself watch, at least in a non-live setting.
I love performing standup and seeing my friends perform it, but any comic working in NYC has to experience so much bad standup that it’s kind of traumatizing [to the point that] when I get home from doing open mics, the last thing I want to do is watch more standup regardless of if it’s good or not. I like to come home, put on some gorenoise and watch Sportscenter on mute.
You mention how traumatizing a bad standup set can be. How, if at all, does grindcore music help you regain your confidence?
The beauty of a Bandit performance is that I virtually have no worries about the technical aspect of what I’m doing. I’ve practiced the songs enough to know when I’m supposed to scream, and people aren’t really paying attention to my technique when I’m rolling around in my underwear and punching them in the legs. It’s just pure energy and passion, and the positive reception we usually get is enough to restore my confidence as a performer. It really allows me to return to the highly technical process of writing and performing standup comedy.
What’s more traumatizing – a bad standup set or a bad Bandit show?
They’re both pretty bad, but I think the standup sticks with me more because I’m less certain of myself in that area of my life. I constantly am questioning my merit as a comedian, but I know I was born to play grindcore and so if the crowd isn’t into it, I know deep down it’s their fucking fault. Bandit is the band I always wanted to see growing up, and I know it connects with a lot of people that way, so a bad set doesn’t really bother me. I’m slowly starting to develop this same attitude with my comedy and bombing definitely doesn’t bother me as much as it used to, but it’s still pretty god damn embarrassing. And this is coming from a guy who vomits on stage.
What do you see is the connection between grindcore and comedy?
I see them both as an attempt to communicating the truth. Comedy allows you to potentially say more but with the stipulation that it has to be funny, whereas performing with Bandit is so much more of an organic experience in that it’s entirely uncontrived. It’s completely spontaneous, but with the limitation that there is only a certain array of emotions I can convey.
What do you think is the biggest similarity between singing in Bandit and performing standup?
Honestly, I’ve found that I basically do riffing between the songs [while playing with Bandit]. Performing comedy definitely helps me feel more comfortable on stage in front of people, and anyone in a band knows that there are always those awkward ass pauses between songs, so I’ll just start goofing around. I also think it makes for a nice contrast between how berserk we are going when we’re playing the actual music and how silly we are between songs. It’s a statement on the duality of man, something like that.
Imagine a scenario where you’re in the middle of doing standup and you’re about to fight a heckler – which song from Pig Destroyer would you want playing during the fight?
This is like picking which is my favorite child! Probably the two-step at the end of “Yellow Line Transfer” or the beatdown in “Mapplethorpe Grey.”
Editor’s Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.